Four years ago

It’s interesting to look back on what I’ve written in the past here. Here’s my entry for four years ago today, 27th June, 2016:

We paid a rather flying visit to Wadsworth’s brewery in Devizes; we had hoped to go on a tour and see the dray horses still used to transport the barrels, but we were a little late after an exciting day doing other things.

We were able to look round the reception area and the shop, and there were a lot of interesting things on display,. all to do with the brewing industry. There was a glass fronted cabinet full of old tools, and it took a moment to work out what they might have been used for, not individually, many were too obscure for that, but as a collection I realised they must have been used for making the barrels, a skilled craft. The craftsman who makes them is a cooper.

We think of barrels as containers for liquids; in the past they were used for transporting many other things safely and securely… thank of the barrel of apples on the Hispaniola where Jim Hawkins hides and overhears the mutiny being planned in Treasure island!

In the days before plastic and lightweight alloys and metals, barrels were very useful; fish, meat, vegetables, fruit could be dried and salted and kept in barrels – either in a domestic situation or to transport them. Some food items were made in barrels, such as sauerkraut which was fermented and then kept.  Fragile items such as eggs could be transported safely in barrels on wagons and carts, with a natural packing material such as straw.

Barrels came in all shapes and sizes, and were called by different names according to that: according to size a barrel could be a pin or polypin, firkin, kilderkin, barrel, hogshead, butt or tun, and for wine it could be a gallon, rundlet, barrel, tierce, hogshead, puncheon, tertian, pipe, butt or tun.

So, going back to display in the brewery, here are different the tools the cooper would use:

  • inside shaves –  shaves inside the burnt casks to remove the burnt charred wood
  • chiv/chive – prepares or curves the inside of the cask ready for the croze
  • croze –  makes the recess or groove for the cask head
  • adze –  bevels off the top of the cask
  • hollowing knives –  shapes the inside of the staves
  • heading knives-  shapes the inside of the cask heads
  • cooper’s axe –  shapes the staves and round off the cask head
  • topping plane – levels the staves ready for the cask head to be inserted
  • scratching up knife – used on the outside of the cask to smooth the staves
  • cooper’s driver – used to secure the metal truss hoops
  • shive borer – makes the hole for the cask shive
  • keystone borer –  makes the hole for the keystone
  • brass keystone/shive fittings – this is where the cask is tapped/spiled

2020 update – last year we visited Wadsworth’s again and this time we went on a tour of the brewery which we thoroughly enjoyed; we stayed over in Devizes and fell in love with the beautiful town and plan to go again soon, when we’re able to go somewhere that is!!


  1. Andrew Petcher

    I remember a story that the body of Horatio Nelson was put in a barrel of rum to preserve it on the way home from Trafalgar. When it docked the barrel was empty!
    Also interesting. Nelson is only one of twelve people outside royalty who have had a state funeral.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.